Back to the pool. Hooray! Swam a lot of loops — 99 laps — while breathing every 3, then 4, 5, then 6. Worked on breathing on my weaker side (left) when breathing every 4. Decided not to count, just swam until Scott entered the pool area and stood at the top of my lane. Not very crowded today. A guy in swim trunks to my right, swimming a lot of side stroke. It was fun to watch the wide sweep of his hands as he moved through the water on his side. Empty to my left, then Miss Luna arrived. Almost positive it was Miss Luna — the regular swimmer who swims with fins and paddles and does butterfly, and wears a pale green suit, with pale blue too, that makes me think vaguely of a luna moth. She wasn’t in pale green with blue today, but a similar suit. Same strong stroke, same fins.
They must have added chlorine since my last swim. Much clearer, sharper too. The blue of the tiles on the bottom that make the lines dividing the sides of the lane were a vivid blue instead of almost looking navy or black. Speaking of color, kept seeing yellow and orange when I lifted my head.
Felt strong and happy and buoyant, riding the surface, smoothly powering through the water. At some point, I started thinking about my color poems. I’ve written one about yellow, another about color in general. Before swimming, I started one about gray. Almost everything is gray or seems gray or leads to gray. Other colors are only pops, flashes, suggestions. I thought about making the poem mostly variations on the phrase, a gray day, or singing a song of gray, or gray area, or grayed out. Then I thought about having the poem visually mimic how I often see color. It’s frequently a flat or hazy gray until suddenly, to the side, a slash or pop of color appears, like orange or red. So, most of the words are gray, gray day, gray dreams, sing a song of gray, then off to the side, “orange” appears. Could this work? I’ll give it a try!
I’m not sure what my challenge for this month will be. I’m in the thick of working on these color poems and prepping for my finding wonder in the winter writing class in late January (so excited to teach this one!). Should it be about orange? Or the poet that just wrote a collection partly about her degenerative eye disease — Julia B. Levine — titled, Ordinary Psalms? Or joy, inspired by recently purchasing Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy and my desire to explore what gray joy could be? I’ll give it another day, but I’m leaning towards Gay and joy. In the meantime, here’s one of Levine’s psalms from Ordinary Psalms:
Psalm with Near Blindness/ Julia B. Levine
The world mostly gone, I make it what I want:
from the balcony, the morning a silver robe of mist.
I make a reckless blessing of it—the flaming,
flowering spurge of the world, the wind
the birds stir up as they flock and sing.
Edges yes, the green lift and fall of live oaks,
something metal wheeling past,
and yet for every detail alive and embodied—
the horses with their tails switching back and forth,
daylilies parting their lobes to heat—
I cannot stop asking, Sparrow or wren? Oak
or elm? Because it matters
if the gray fox curled in sleep
is a patch of dark along the fence line,
or if the bush hung with fish kites
is actually a wisteria in flower. Though
even before my retinas bled and scarred
and bled again, I wanted everything
different, better. And then this afternoon,
out walking the meadow together,
my husband bent to pick a bleeding heart.
Held it close as I needed
to see its delicate lanterns,
the shaken light.
Deer, he says, our car stopped in traffic.
And since I can’t see them, I ask, Where?
Between the oaks, he answers,
and since I can’t see the between,
I ask, In the dappling?
He takes my hand and points
to the darkest stutter in the branches
and I see a shadow
in the sight line of his hand, his arm,
his blue shirt with its clean scent of laundry,
my hand shading my eyes from glare.
There! he says, and I can see
the dark flash of them
leaping over a fence (or is it reeds?),
one a buck with his bony crown,
and one a doe, and one smaller, a fawn,
but by then it seems they’ve disappeared
and so I ask, Gone?
and he nods.
We’re moving again,
and so I let the inner become outer
become pasture and Douglas firs
with large herds of deer, elk, even bison,
and just beyond view, a mountain lion
auburn red, like the one we saw years before,
hidden behind a grove of live oaks,
Oh, I am so excited to find this poem and the brilliant work of this poet! I can relate to so many of her words! The silver mist of the morning, the edges mostly gone, the emphasis on movement, her husband helping her to see, the inner becoming outer. Some differences too (probably partly because I imagine my vision isn’t quite as bad as hers): I don’t think the world is gone, more shifted, italicized, transformed. And I don’t need to know exactly what type of tree I’m seeing. I’d like to be able to tell the difference between a deer or a bush — sometimes I can’t — but the fine details matter less.
My thoughts on this last bit, about seeing exactly what’s there, are partly inspired by Levine’s response in an interview about the psalm. She says:
As I worked on it, this poem felt to me like a meditation on one particular dilemma of near blindness: that is, in the absence of a clear visual image, how the mind fills in, and what relationship this kind of seeing” has to spiritual notions of “vision” as opposed to a medical/anatomical definition of “sight.”
To explain further, there are some absences of visual perception that I actually like: I don’t see how dirty my house is, or whether or not my clothes are covered in blonde dog hair, and my friends and family all look very beautiful to me since I cannot see their wrinkles or whatever else might be considered “flaws.”
But I have loved the natural world since I was a small child and it is my inability to see it accurately that pains me. So, in the poem, I am interested in both how tounderstand what I do “see” as a amalgam of my own mind and memory, plus the relational construction that primarily my husband lends to me, and finally, what I can actually perceive. The result of this perceptual construction can sometimes feel like an important “truth” as opposed to visual fact.
I have loved the natural world since I was a small child and it is my inability to see it accurately that pains me.Interview with Julia B. Levine
I love the natural world, but I’ve never needed to see it accurately in the ways that Levine seems to be invoking. I’m not interested in critiquing her perspective, but in positioning mine in relation to it. Also, I’d like to understand more of what she means by accurate. The more I (attempt to) study how vision and sight work, the more I’m fascinated by how much guesswork it involves for everyone, even “normally” sighted people. The brain filters, guesses, fills in. What does it mean to see nature accurately? Also, what about other senses? Can they enable us to access parts of nature that our limited/biased vision can’t? Losing some sight and the ability to easily, and more quickly, with much more detail, sucks, and I struggle with it. But I’m also interested in ways of knowing/understanding/recognizing/becoming familiar with beyond central vision and fine detail. I have a different project than Levine, but I deeply appreciate her words.